Survival Entrepreneurship

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

I had the opportunity to visit Thailand once. One of the things I was privileged to experience there, was visiting a family who ran a pig farm. Once the pigs were grown up, mum would take them to the local market - and with the money she made doing this, she was able to enrol her kids in school! My visit had been facilitated by the organisation that had gifted the first generation of pigs to her family a few years prior.

Is that cool, or what? And it's a perfect example of what survival entrepreneurship is: using business and entrepreneurial skills to make a way forward in life.

Part of what that experience showed me, is that white Australians have some blind spots when it comes to entrepreneurship. Let me have a go at describing how, in my experience, many white Australians in particular tend to categorise entrepreneurship:

  1. Side-hustles. Has tended to refer to people taking their hobby seriously enough to turn into a business, probably by selling through a website. Not really designed to make money, necessarily. Have tended not to last long, either. If you want to know how side-hustles can become a much more integral, robust form of survival entrepreneurship, check out this blog post!

  2. Small business. Think tradies and restaurants. Relatively rare for someone to actually start one of these - more often the business has been passed down generationally. This is also why I differentiate white Australians above, because in many cases, it is first-generation migrants who were the actual business founders!

  3. You won't be Google, so why bother. Aussies are nothing, if not pragmatists. The idea of growing anything more than, or different to, a business that takes one of the above two forms tends to be considered a little bit pointless.

  4. Be your own boss. Maybe the one that's deepest ingrained into Australian culture. We hate being managed. We can just smell manipulation, and overuse or abuse of power. It is attractive, as an Australian, to entertain the possibility of answering to no-one but number one!

I put to you that survival entrepreneurship has gone missing in that entire conversation.

In a country as privileged as Australia, entrepreneurship is, by and large, seen as an optional extra. Most people assume that finding a job will be the modus operandi of their vocational lives, rather than making one. And how lucky are we in Australia, to be able to, in many cases, carry that assumption without ever even needing to question it! In the past, there has often been a plentiful supply of jobs to go around.

Even for me, it was only relatively recently, that I began to question this. My entire education before that was based around what job I wanted to get.

Meanwhile in other countries, people are much more generally used to the concept of creating something for yourself in order to survive - even if it is at the smallest of scales. A woman weaving rugs to sell on the side of the street. A father selling kebabs (or roti!) from his tiny food cart late on a Friday night.

The idea that you can't rely on there always being somebody to employ you is much more prevalent in countries that have not had the opportunities Australia has.

Which makes Australia, frankly, entrepreneurially stunted. We've been too comfortable for our own good, in other words. And if someone doesn't fit into our very traditional picture of the work force, Australia doesn't really know what to do with them.

It makes me think of my dad. He's been on a disability pension for much of his life. Don't for one second think that that means he is incapable, though. My dad owns and maintains one of the best veggie gardens in his suburb - I'd put money on it. And you'll never meet a friendlier man, talking with strangers as if he's known them for a lifetime.

He's had jobs in the past, but by and large, he's been written off from the work force. There's no way his resume would be competitive, in the vast majority of work, especially in today's environment.

I look at my dad's veggie patch, though, his pride and joy, and think to myself... Damn it, there's something here! I'm not insane! This man has in him the potential to succeed that any of us do - that ingenius, creative spark that's part of what makes us human.

Survival entrepreneurship, really, is about harnessing that spark, whatever form it happens to take, and translating it into something that can sustain you.

And this is what "Go Get Em" is really about - nurturing that spark in all of us, that has the potential to create something for ourselves. Even more so, it is about empowering those society might consider the least able, to do exactly that.

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